Attorney alleges 'selective prosecution' of showcase house designer

Claudia Dowling, who runs the Cedar Knolls Showcase Claudia Dowling, who runs the Cedar Knolls Showcase home in Laurel Hollow, is met by Code Enforcement Officer Tom Haley, who is handing out stop orders at her business in Laurel Hollow on Sept. 5, 2013. Photo Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

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The attorney for a designer who organized an open house at a Gold Coast mansion that Laurel Hollow officials shut down last year has accused the village of "selective prosecution."

Village officials accused designer Claudia Dowling of running an illegal commercial enterprise when she produced an event to help sell a house that had been on the market for years.

When the open house proceeded without permits, the village shut it down and ticketed some participants.

Following a three-hour trial on March 5, Village Judge Joseph D'Elia gave both parties 30 days to file briefs. That date was extended to April 21. D'Elia is expected to rule 30 to 60 days after the briefs filings.

"The village has singled out [Claudia Dowling Inc.] for prosecution," attorney Mona Conway argued in a brief filed last week with the village court.

Realtor Maria Lanzisero and two limousine drivers were charged but pleaded down to parking ticket violations. The owner of the house, Bobby Bakhchi, was not charged. He declined to comment, citing the "ongoing legal matter."

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In the brief, Huntington Station-based Conway said Bakhchi did not tell Dowling that his application for a building permit had been denied.

Village prosecutor Jeffrey Blinkoff argued at trial that Dowling must have known the activity was not allowed because she spoke at an appeal hearing.

Dowling has said she did not understand what the hearing was about and had relied on Bakhchi to work everything out with the village.

Noting that Bakhchi was not charged, the brief questioned his relationship with village Mayor Daniel DeVita. DeVita said he did not recall anything in the brief about an improper relationship but said it contained some "name calling."

"Let's wait until the papers are in . . . and we'll wait and see what the judge rules," DeVita said.

Conway argued that the village code did not prohibit the multi-weekend event and that it was an allowed use because it was "customarily incidental and accessory" to the use of a home, noting that many promotional devices are used to sell homes.

The brief also argued that stop-work orders that were issued were inappropriate because they dealt with construction rather than the event.

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